Nobody Walks, 2012.
Directed by Ry Russo-Young.
Written by Ry Russo-Young and Lena Dunham.
Starring John Krasinski, Olivia Thirlby and Jane Levy.
A Californian family slowly falls apart after taking a young artist into their home.
Nobody walks in Los Angeles. They take cars everywhere. In this film, the phrase also applies to a family breaking apart.
But what an attractive family! They live high up in the California hills, with a swimming pool in their back garden and an ever-shining sun tanning their pretty heads. Peter (John Krasinski), the father, works as a foley artist for the movies. He’s recently been signed to a big film, so money isn’t an issue. Julie (Rosemarie DeWitt), the mother, is a psychiatrist to the stars. She won their family home from her ex-husband, so money isn’t an issue. Kolt (India Ennenga), the daughter, is a budding poet at school, harbouring a crush for Peter’s assistant, David (Rhys Wakefield). She’s currently learning Italian from her private, but slightly pervey tutor. So money isn’t an issue.
They all appear to lead a happy and content life together. They even have the cute phrase “from the fruit bowl night,” which is a nicer way of saying, “make your own dinner tonight, kids.” Well, that is until the very sexually charged Martine (Olivia Thirlby) arrives.
She’s a friend of a friend of Julie’s, and an artist. Her latest project, something to do with bugs, requires sound design, which Peter has agreed to provide whilst between jobs. She’s barely there a week, yet Martine manages to shatter the family’s foundations, not through any intended malice, but by being her free-spirited, borderline nymphomaniac self. Yet there’s always a hint these problems were always there, Martine’s presence only widening previously hidden, pre-existing fissures.
Various love triangles start to pop up like a Kaleidoscope suddenly being wound into action, each one engaging and thought out. There’s Julie/patient, Kolt/David, Kolt/Italian teacher, Martine/David, Martine/Julie, Martine/anything that moves. The most heart breaking and poignant, though, is that between Julie and Peter. They come across as the perfect couple, their banter so effortlessly comfortable. It’s also the relationship dealt with most delicately. Whilst the other triangles are paraded around behind closed doors, Julie and Peter are only offered a few, brief scenes of their deterioration, rarely addressing their crumbling marriage.
A hint is dropped every now and again (“Just don’t embarrass me, Peter,” Julie warned after seeing the way he looks at Martine), whilst Peter’s insecurities can be traced back subtly to a dinner with Julie’s ex-husband.And then, after everything has crescendoed at a friend’s party, the film holds on a shot of the family driving home. Kolt occupies the front seat, unaware of her parents’ facial expressions. Peter’s brow is furrowed, Julie can only look out the window. Understated, subtle, sublime – it’s more than enough.
Although Peter and Julie provide the film’s spine, it is Martine who is the main character, and her relationship with Peter that garners the most focus. Peter’s feelings are lustful, Martine’s are simply a lack of self-control, but their professional relationship provides Nobody Walks with its potentially most innovative aspect.
Through their collaboration on Martine’s project, sound design – Peter’s profession – is incorporated into the film’s form. When Peter demonstrates the powers of a directional microphone to Martine, the film isolates morsels of audio in the sound track. The noise of traffic being echoed off the high, Californian mountains; the pitter-patter of water against a shower’s glass; the intimate sound of someone’s breath.
It’s this last one that awakens the two to their sexual attraction, but the sound design is never developed beyond the diegetic. Isolating noises only occurs when a directional microphone is in the hand of a character, the director, Ry Russo-Young, never realising she could employ it whenever she wants.Some of the more emotional scenes could have been made more affective with such an expressive sound design. Instead, the film’s foley plays as normal – although very good, no overt emphasis is placed on it after those initial scenes. In what is essentially an average family drama, this innovation could have set the film apart. A trick was missed here.
Overall, Nobody Walks is a watchable film, but for a drama so combustible and intense in nature, it feels as though its fists have been strapped with pillows. The film is specifically about that Californian class where money isn’t an issue, they drive everywhere, they smoke cannabis with friends at parties while their children play in the garden.
You don’t want to see these kinds of families ‘affected’ or ‘transformed,’ not in this decade, not in this recession. You want to see them explode and disintegrate, ripped to shreds by a gas-mask-wearing, zombie Dennis Hopper.
Instead, they smoulder and shift like tectonic plates.
Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★